Top 4 Things Your Loved One With An Eating Disorder Wants You To Know

Chances are, you’ve met someone in your life who has struggled or is struggling with an eating disorder, or perhaps you have found yourself in the grasp of the mental illness. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reveals shocking statistics, ranking eating disorders with the second-highest mortality rate among mental illnesses, imploring that 9% of Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life.

Eating disorders appear often in the media. Consequently, we are typically shown emaciated white females when the topic of eating disorders comes to the surface. However, eating disorders don’t share the same face; they are all revealed differently in each individual. Anyone with any background, culture, race, and ethnicity can struggle with an eating disorder, whether wealthy or poor, male or female, binary or non-binary, child or adult. You can never look at someone and assume they have or do not have an eating disorder simply based on their physical appearance.

Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified), Binge Eating Disorder, and so many other eating disorders do not discriminate. They touch you and me either personally through your own struggle or through those we know and love. Close to one in ten of us deal with this mental battle throughout our lives.

More importantly, the battle can be a tumultuous and nonlinear one. There can be long-term and short-term recovery; eating disorders can be completely recovered from when the proper treatment plan is in place.

Many of us personally know or have run into someone who has or has had an eating disorder, whether in recovery or currently stuck in the illness, and it’s highly important to try to have a basic understanding of the illness in order to be a support for the person struggling. The illness often festers in secret, so those struggling can have a difficult time sharing the fact that they deal with such burdens.

However, there are certain things an individual facing an eating disorder wishes they could tell their loved ones in order to help them understand on a deeper level what exactly they are facing every day. The person with the eating disorder often fights the inner desire to shine a light on the dark corners of their disorder, stuck between helping those who love them help support them in more productive and meaningful ways and the deep wanting to stay isolated and safe in the familiarity of the disorder.

Your loved one with an eating disorder wants you to know four major things: Their eating disorder is not a choice, their eating disorder is not who they are, it's not always about the food, and their eating disorder gives them something they need.

1. Their Eating Disorder is Not a Choice

Your loved one with an eating disorder would like you to know that their eating disorder was not a choice. It’s as simple as that. Eating disorders are not a choice. The person fighting the eating disorder did not wake up one day and think to themselves, “Hey, this is something I’d like to try out.” It may start out like that on occasion, having a seed of a thought like that, but it so easily and so quickly snowballs into something else. What starts as a small seed of thought turns into a monster that is all-consuming in the blink of an eye.

Anyone with an eating disorder will tell you that they would not wish the mental illness on their worst enemy. The disorder is something that takes up so much of the struggler’s time, energy, and money. When given the proper fuel and attention, the disorder can take up all aspects of the person’s life, taking up all the open spaces and corners of who and what they are as a person.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses. They are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a mental illness, and there are organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and the National Association of Mental Illnesses (NAMI) that offer studies and resources that show us that eating disorders are in fact categorized as mental illnesses.

2. Their Eating Disorder is Not Who They Are

Your loved one with an eating disorder would like you to know that the eating disorder is not theirs. This is a difficult concept to grasp, understandably. The person is an individual who is struggling with an illness, but the illness feels like a completely different and separate entity to the person who is struggling.

This is a topic that is covered extensively in the best-selling novel by Jenni Schaefer entitled Life Without Ed. As someone who dealt with her own personal eating disorder journey, Schaefer informs the reader that they absolutely must separate the person struggling with the eating disorder from the eating disorder itself. She refers often to the idea of speaking to the eating disorder directly as if it is its own person, instead of grouping the person struggling together with the disorder.

An eating disorder is an illness, and the person with the illness is not the illness. This could be compared to someone with an addiction. Someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol has an illness. These addictions are categorized as illnesses are can and often are hereditary.

Your loved one wants you to know that the eating disorder is a parasite that has latched on to them. They also want you to try your best to separate their disorder from themselves. The disorder is sneaky, dishonest, and lacks rationality and the ability to reason. They themselves are not those things; those are qualities that belong to the eating disorder and not the person. Separate the person from the eating disorder and that will offer a different level of perspective.

3. It’s Not Always About the Food

Your loved one with an eating disorder would like you to know that it’s not always about the food. Sure, the food plays a part in it and each eating disorder looks different than the next, so some may rely on the food aspect more than others, but more often than not, it’s about so much more than just the food.

It’s often about control. The person may feel a lack of control over one or several areas of their lives and therefore turn to the eating disorder as a form of comfort and consistency over a period of time. Being able to control what they eat to the extreme until the eating disorder takes over is the idea that comes into play. Your loved one is trying to gain a sense of control over something when they feel like everything is out of control.

Sometimes it is about the food, but not always. People assume that someone with an eating disorder is afraid of food or is extremely picky with what they eat because of the food itself, and this is sometimes the case, but not always. Often it has to do with the control aspect of the situation. Feeling in control is a powerful thing, and to some extent, when the person is dealing with an eating disorder, they feel in control and in power for a period of time. It’s often more about feeling in control than it is about the food itself.

4. Their Eating Disorder Gives Them Something They Need

Your loved one with an eating disorder would like you to know that while there are many downsides to having an eating disorder such as the obvious decline in physical health as well as the lack of care for mental health and wellbeing, there are some positives as well. If the person struggling wasn’t getting something out of it, wasn’t seeing a positive result in some way, they wouldn’t hold on to the disorder.

As mentioned prior, control plays a big role in many eating disorders. Your loved one may be using it to feel that strong sense of power and control over part of their lives. The person struggling may be using the eating disorder as a tool for weight maintenance or weight loss depending on the disorder. They may be using the eating disorder as a source of comfort and consistency in a life that feels tumultuous and uncertain.

There is a multitude of reasons why a person dealing with an eating disorder may not be fully recovery-minded, meaning they’re not actively fighting against the eating disorder every day. There are parts of the disorder that harm them, but there are also parts that help them in some form and way. Ideally, the person struggling would look for other ways to fill those needs other than leaning further into their eating disorder, but in some way, the eating disorder is filling a need for the person. This looks different for each eating disorder, and each disorder can fill a different need for each individual.

In conclusion, we now know that our loved one with an eating disorder wants us to know that their eating disorder is not a choice, their eating disorder is not them, it’s not always about the food, and their eating disorder gives them something they need. Knowing these things, we can have a deeper understanding of the person struggling, and we can build upon them and learn how best to support our loved ones in their struggle.

Two people holding hands across a table
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Eden is a 26-year-old Aries who loves learning and exploring mental health, self-love, self-care, and eating disorder recovery.

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.

Start Writing